Thoughts on American healthcare

For lunch on November the 20th, I was trying to struggling with a can of refried beans. This was one of those difficult cans without a pull tab, and we had no openers at home. The frustration led to a moment of madness where I just decided to stab the can top with a large meat knife. Pop-pop-pop and stab! Yup, I looked down to find I had stabbed the webbing of my left hand. Only a moment later there was blood oozing out left and right. Perturbed by all the blood, I decided to stop everything else and run to the Northeastern student health center.

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Before we begin here, its important to share that this was my first experience with any American medical facility. Now healthcare is not too bad back home in India either. In a similar situation in an Indian college, I would have gone to a dispensary, possibly gotten roughed up by a couple of nurses and “compounders” over the unavailability of the correct doctor, but eventually stitched up with a pair of sterilized scissors and new tapes.

With the insurance card in my pocket, I entered the health center. First impressions – it was nothing like any dispensaries back home. There were four booths and students in small queues in front of those. I went up to one of them when it was my turn. The lady at the booth asked for my college ID, and pulled up my record. They already knew I had had a tetanus within the last year (yeah I keep doing these things). She pulled up a number from my insurance card, gave me an appointment number and asked me to wait in the spacious waiting area. She added I could use one of the self check-in terminals (placed on the sides of this first room) next time.

I had barely waited for 5 minutes when a nurse came out of the clinic door looking for me. I followed her in an entered one of the rooms. She asked me to place all the stuff in my pockets on a table, and stand on a weighing scale. To me, this was frivolous. Why would anyone take my weight for fixing a knife cut? It only got weirder when she next placed a blood pressure clip on my finger and took my temperature! Seriously, what was going on? In fact at this point, I went ahead and insisted once again that I was only here to get a cut fixed, pointing at my broken webbing. She replied she knew, but wants to go through procedure to see if anything else was wrong. She left once she had taken my vitals and asked me to wait for the doctor.

Next up – the doctor. She was probably no older than 30 and beautiful, I must confess. My next interrogation began with a series of questions about the injury, followed by my history of bruises, allergies and reactions. She looked at the wound for a bit and decided that we would need a couple of stitches. Next, she pulled out a square box case – about 6 inches side – broke open a seal,  pulled out a syringe and a small bottle of numbing anesthesia and began with the, by now seemingly mandatory, disclosure about anesthesia and its effects. I declared I was okay with all that and just wanted to get the procedure done with. She cleaned the wound, numbed the wound and pulled out a brand new pair of surgical scissors and cut a small piece of the surgical thread for stitches. Diligently, she applied two stitches and rubbed a small gash of disinfectant on the now closed tear.

While all the care by this moment had been overwhelming enough for me to actually bring up the differences with the Indian procedures, what happened next flummoxed me completely! She trashed the entire kit with at least 15 other medical supplies such as unopened packs of tapes, bandages, scissors, ointments, etc in it. Unbelievable! Totally new, those could have been used by another patient bringing healthcare costs of the system down, or even sent for medical relief to another country. Additionally, it would have saved all that extra medical waste to be dumped. Anyway, albeit stupefied, I thanked her, fixed the followup appointment on her computer and asked if I had to pay anything. To my surprise, the expenses (apart from the care, wonder what that kit had cost) were covered by my insurance. So I left the health center, fixed up and not a penny lighter.

Since then, while I commended the excellent care received, I’ve asked my friends about the wasteful medical policy of dumping the entire supplies kit. Matter-of-factly, they replied it was routine procedure and pointed that the kit “wasted” in my little procedure was nothing compared to the ones thrown away during complex orthopedic or internal surgeries. The inefficiency it seems, is because of the supplier-hospital contracts in this capitalist economy which stipulate the hospital to use an tool kit only once after its seal has been broken! An unbelievable and inhuman requirement at so many levels, only in place to maximize supplier profits. Hospitals don’t care because in the end its the doctors who receive royalties for the products developed.

So while America contemplates the pros and cons of Obamacare, deep rooted capitalism kicks humanity hard.